In recent years, a number of formerly obscure movements have risen to become staples of quality strength programming. In other words, you're probably still not doing them, but you know that you should be.
Farmer carries are one such movement. Strength coach Dan John says that they're the movement that has the potential to expand athletic qualities more than any other. They improve grip strength, posture, core strength, and coordination all at once, with the added benefit of giving you locomotive breath—or work capacity, conditioning, or any other buzzword you prefer.
The Turkish get-up (aka the get-up), has a similar reputation for building a wide range of qualities, but it's even more rare than carries, at least outside of specialized gyms. Why is that? The learning curve is steeper, for one. With carries, you just pick up and go. And with get-ups, you also run the risk of getting asked what it "works."
If you don't have a good answer, or if you just want to know what all the fuss is about—spoiler alert: the fuss is well-deserved—then this is the guide for you. I'll also share my unique way of teaching the movement, as well as some of the best ways to progress it rather than the timeless, "see how friggin' heavy you can go."
Why Do the Get-Up?
For one, the simple act of getting up from the ground while supporting a weight confers all of the same benefits as carries—strength, posture, core, coordination—but requires much less space to perform, and fewer weights to choose from. But the benefits definitely don't end there.
- It simultaneously utilizes the glutes, which are the most powerful muscle in the lower body, and the lats, the most powerful muscle in the upper body. Even better, it focuses on the glute from one side of the body and the lat from the other. This contralateral pattern is essential to walking, running, throwing, punching, swinging a bat, or just being human—and it's deficient in plenty of strong people who wonder why they're always getting hurt.
- The get-up stabilizes the shoulder joint through multiple planes of motion. Since the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body, stabilization and mobilization go hand in hand there—or at least they should. And unless you are a gymnast, chances are that you're not doing enough to train your shoulders outside of horizontal and vertical pushing/pulling.
- It can do wonders for your ability to own the arms-overhead position, both weighted and unweighted. I train a number of older clients and one thing I've noticed is a difficulty—or inability—to reach their arms overhead. I'm hoping that by training the get-up now, I'm building capacity to reach soup cans off the top shelf when I'm 80.
- It forces you to change levels while training in a unilateral stance, as opposed to the bilateral position of, say, the squat or Olympic lifts. You transition all the way from lying on the ground to standing while maintaining athletic positions and joint alignment. Most sports—and most fun activities in general—involve a certain degree of chaos, and you may find yourself losing balance or getting knocked on your ass. The get-up teaches you to quickly adjust and be able to respond with strength from these disadvantaged positions.
One more great thing about the get-up—well, OK, two things that are really kinda one thing: It can be taught effectively with no weight at all, and it usually won't allow you to go heavy until you've earned the privilege, learned the movement, and ironed out a few of your most urgent mobility issues. But once you have the basics down, you can typically use a weight heavier than you can press with one hand. But first things first.
Get Down to Get Up
Geoff Neupert did a great job laying out the seven specific "stations" of the get-up in his article The Ultimate Guide to the Turkish Get-Up. If you're looking for a breakdown from the ground up, give it a read.
If you've been struggling with the ground-up version of the movement, as many people do, my go-to solution is to start the movement from a standing position and work your way to the floor. Most people find that more natural, and since you've already worked your way through the positions they don't feel as alien when you're standing back up. Even if you're well-acquainted with the ground-up version, I recommend performing the top-down version on occasion. Here's how to perform the "get-down."
- Snatch or jerk a moderately heavy weight overhead with one hand.
- Now step back to a lunge with your opposite leg—repeat: opposite leg—placing your knee on the ground. Windshield wiper your bottom leg so that the knee turns to 90 degrees.
- Now slide your free hand down the front of your thigh until it is close to the ground, move it about one foot in front of your knee, and plant it strongly. Shift your weight into your hand, raise your back knee off of the ground, and sit though the bridge created by your hand and front foot until your hip (not butt) is resting on the ground.
- Bend your support arm and place the elbow on the ground, trying to stay tall and proud-chested while you do it. Your arms and shoulders should create a straight line down from the weight into the ground. Reach for the sky, don't lounge like you're on the beach.
- Finally, push yourself away from the elbow to roll onto your back. You can reverse the movement and get up, or simply lower the weight with two hands and place it on the ground. Stand up without the weight and repeat on the other side.
How to Program and Progress the Get-Up
Not knowing where to slot the get-up in a busy fitness dance card is a common reason to avoid it altogether. Here are my preferences:
- Perform 3-5 per side as part of a warm-up routine. Alternate sides most of the time, but on occasion, perform all 3-5 for a single side in a single set. You won't be able to go as heavy on those days, but the time under tension can be instructive.
- Pair it with another exercise for a full-body workout. I think of the get-up as being a full-body push, so it pairs especially well with pulling movements like deadlifts, kettlebell swings, pull-ups, single-leg deadlifts, or rows.
Once you've learned the basic movement there are a number of ways to progress it, but I recommend getting very comfortable with the movement before you push any boundaries. When you're fairly solid, you can load the thing up. But also consider progressing it in other ways. My favorites include pausing for 5-30 seconds at each stage, and adding a press—or three, or five—at each stage to further increase your strength at odd angles.
Of course, you could also switch to barbells, impress your friends by being their escalator to the heavens, or continue to improve your mobility and coordination by incorporating other movements into the get-up to create a flow. (Note: you probably can't do that particular flow.)
You could even tweak the "basic stations" to incorporate different positions or put more of a priority on thoracic mobility, such as coach Mike Perry does in the "SOS get-up."
Finally, you can try the double get-up. This movement will really challenge your strength—both core and overall—and mobility. It's generally considered more a strength feat—aka a parlor trick—than strength training. That's no reason not to aspire to do it, though. Especially if all around badassery is your goal. If you're up for it, you can do it with arms overhead, in the rack, or with no hands. All of them will challenge you plenty.
Even if you're a true get-up fiend, that should be enough to hold you for most of a lifetime. Now get up and do it!